Solar photovoltaic (PV) technology provides the opportunity to generate electricity with very low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Both utility-scale (large solar plant) and distributed (rooftop) systems have been growing in total installed capacity, and decreasing in cost, in the past decade.
However, solar development entails energy, greenhouse gas, hazardous material, water, and land-use impacts associated with mining, manufacturing, operational use, and end-of-life. Below, we detail some of these environmental impacts, as well as approaches to minimizing these impacts. We first compare the material and land use impacts of utility versus distributed solar. We next describe the energy and material use associated with manufacturing and end-of-life. Finally, we identify barriers to solar deployment and offer some potential solutions.